Drugs & Aging

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 19–41

Pharmacological Treatments for Persistent Non-Malignant Pain in Older Persons

Therapy In Practice


Persistent non-malignant pain is common, often neglected and under-treated among older persons. Some older adults do not complain because they consider chronic pain to be a characteristic of normal aging. Physicians have concerns regarding adverse effects of pharmacological treatment.

The model of the World Health Organization for treatment of cancer pain is generally accepted and also recommended for persistent non-cancer pain. Furthermore, non-pharmacological treatment should complement drug treatment whenever possible. An initial assessment and possible treatment of underlying causes of pain are pertinent.

Modern pharmacological pain management is based on non-opioid and opioid analgesics. NSAIDs are among the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the world. The new cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors such as celecoxib and rofecoxib offer an alternative for the treatment of mild-to-moderate pain in patients with a history of gastric ulcers or bleeding. Paracetamol (acetaminophen) is being used widely for the management of mild pain across all age groups as it has moderate adverse effects at therapeutic dosages.

For moderate pain, a combination of non-opioid analgesics and opioid analgesics with moderate pain relief properties (e.g. oxycodone, codeine, tramadol and tilidine/naloxone) is recommended. For severe pain, a combination of non-opioid analgesics and opioid analgesics with strong pain relief properties (e.g. morphine, codeine) is recommended.

The least toxic means of achieving systemic pain relief should be used. For continuous pain, sustained-release analgesic preparations are recommended. Drugs should be given on a fixed time schedule, and possible adverse effects and interactions should be carefully monitored. Adjuvant drugs, such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants, can be very effective especially in the treatment of certain types of pain, such as in diabetic neuropathy. Effective pain management should result in decreased pain, increased function and improvement in mood and sleep.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bethesda Geriatric ClinicUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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